Today’s article is about Conflict Engines. This is what is written in How To Craft a Story.
“Did you know that every formula is based on relationship? Every formula that has an antagonist in it is based on the relationship that the protagonist has to the protagonist’s goal and that the antagonist has to the antagonist’s goal. The protagonist and the antagonist come together somehow and their goals, or the methods of reaching their goals, conflict with each other. That conflict causes the protagonist and the antagonist to have a relationship with each other, perhaps an adversarial relationship. The relationship that a character has to its goal is deeper than the relationship that the character has with the antagonist. It’s a relationship that the character has inside of itself, a relationship that is based on the character’s ‘wants’ and ‘needs.’
Every character needs at least these two things: Love and Fulfillment.” — Relationship and Formula, Chapter 2
“Every formula is based on struggle. Many formulas include conflict. The structure of a formula is based on a character facing difficulty while that character tries to solve a problem. A formula structures the types of difficulties and flow of difficulties which the character will face throughout the story.” — How Formulas Work, Chapter 5
“You should try to structure the story in a way in which the audience will be interested in the problem’s resolution. If the audience is only interested in the climax, it means that the audience was interested in the confrontation and not interested in the problem which caused that confrontation.
It either means that the audience was more interested in taking sides in the conflict than in the problem’s resolution or it means that the story focused more on the confrontation than it did on the reason why that confrontation happened.
How can you focus on the problem more than on the confrontation?
By focusing on the characters who are experiencing that problem. By showing the effects that the problem is having on those characters and by showing the aftermath of those effects or the aftermath of the confrontation.” — The End, Chapter 12
Something that I didn’t mention in the book is ‘Conflict Engines.’ Every story is about solving a problem. A ‘Conflict Engine’ is a set of circumstances in which the solution to one person’s problem conflicts with another person’s goals in a manner that will result in conflict until one person stops trying to reach their goal or until one of the people’s goals becomes unreachable.
To show you an excellent example of a Conflict Engine, I’m going to answer (T-ara member) Hyomin’s question about (Secret member) Han Seonhwa. Update: Han Seonhwa left Secret and her agency in October, 2016, to focus on acting. She has joined a new agency, Hauyi Brothers Entertainment.
Disclaimer: The comments in this article are my opinions based on my observations. My comments in this article regarding specific people may not be accurate because they are based on my observations. I tried to contact Han Seonhwa, but I did not receive a reply from her.
In 2009, there was a Korean reality show, named Invincible Youth, that featured Korean singers from girl groups (who spent most of their time performing or training in dance studios) living together and learning about farm life in a village. The show was a huge success. KBS has Season 1 and Season 2 (both seasons subtitled in English) on their YouTube channel.
Two of the girls who were in Season 1 are Hyomin from the musical group ‘T-ara‘ and Seonhwa from the musical group ‘Secret.’ T-ara debuted about two months before the first episode of Invincible Youth was filmed. Secret debuted one day before the first episode was filmed. Hyomin and Seonhwa were like newborn babies in the entertainment industry.
All the girls on the show wanted more airtime in each episode. Their airtime on the show was an opportunity for the general public to get to know them. Airtime was a valuable opportunity to market themselves and their groups’ songs. Many of the girls got airtime, but the two girls who were edited out the most were Hyomin and Seonhwa.
After a few weeks, Seonhwa started to become popular. She was given the name ‘White Paper’ (meaning ‘Blank Mind’). She also started to take screen time away from some of the more popular girls. At some point after the show started airing, a few of the Invincible Youth cast members were guests on an episode of a variety show (I think the name of the show was ‘Win Win Plus,’ but I’m not sure). The show that they were guests on is off the air now and I can’t seem to find links to official copies of the episode online, but here are clips of the episode that they were in.
I’ve posted a partial transcript of the episode below.
In this episode, right before this clip, Seonhwa said that her mother called her and told her not to do the multiplication table anymore because she was too embarrassed to leave the house. Seonhwa explained to her mother that she was only doing it to be funny and that the character that she was acting as on the show was helping her gain airtime. Then her mother sent her a bunch of books so that she can study.
Translation Credit: BEGsubcrew
Hyomin: We were both new. We were edited together, but she got more camera time. I envied her, but she teases me.
Seonhwa: No, I don’t.
Hyomin: Yes, you do. “Be born like me.”
Hyomin: She’s either a real fool or a genius. I think she’s pretending to be stupid to get more camera time. I’m researching her. (pause) I haven’t found an answer yet.
Host: She’s too perfect at being dumb!
Hyomin: I have the least camera time.
Shinyeong: People want more camera time when they’re new. They exaggerate.
Seonhwa: Before the character was developed, Noh Juhyeon put his arm around me once. My dad doesn’t even do that. He surprised me! I asked what he was doing.
Host: You meant it!
Kim Taewoo: I was surprised.
Seonhwa: The staff members laughed and everyone was happy. I thought that was the way for me to go. I didn’t have a character yet.
Kim Taewoo: You didn’t discuss it with anyone?
Seonhwa: No. If I did, someone else would have taken my idea!
Seonhwa: He put his arm around my shoulder again the next time. I asked him what he was doing! The staff members liked it, but Juhyeon… (Seonhwa makes a face to show that Juhyeon was not happy)
Kim Taewoo: He thought of her as a daughter.
Seonhwa: Yes, but I was trying to develop a concept. I felt it was going to be a hit. I had everything all set! After the filming, the director came to me. He said I was just trying to be happy, but Juhyeon would be hurt.
Someone: His feelings would be hurt.
Seonhwa: The director said that.
Host: Did it air?
Seonhwa: No, it was edited.
Shinyeong: That’s upsetting.
Seonhwa: It was edited, I was upset, and I wasn’t on Juhyeon’s good side.
Kim Taewoo: He dislikes her the most.
Seonhwa: I acted cute and apologized later.
In that clip and in the Invincible Youth episodes, Hyomin looks awkward and shy. Hyomin is usually a laid-back person and she wasn’t used to trying to get attention. That’s one of the reasons why she didn’t get much airtime.
Hyomin is an actress. She’s at her best when she has a role to play.
Invincible Youth aired from 2009 until almost the end of December, 2010. During that time, Hyomin acted in two drama series. In 2011, she won a ‘Best New Actress’ award for her role in the historical drama Gye Baek.
Hyomin has become a better actress since then. She really shines in some of the drama versions of T-ara’s music videos (but I’ll talk about that in another article).
Hyomin didn’t know how to get airtime on a reality show, but Seonhwa did. I’m going to write about Seonhwa’s acting ability in the next article because she gives a glimpse into how she developed the character that she portrays on Invincible Youth. I will say this now, though: Seonhwa’s ability allows her to convey emotions as though she is the character, not only pretending to be the character.
Today’s article will focus on the conflict engine between Kwon Yuri, Kim Taewoo and Han Seonhwa.
First, there are a few things that you should know about Seonhwa:
- She wants to have fun All the Time.
- If she doesn’t need to take something seriously, she’ll probably try to have fun with it.
- She likes seeing people react.
Seonhwa has the ability to magnify parts of her personality.
Every person has behaviour that is ‘normal’ to them. What prevents a person from acting crazy in public? Usually, it’s thoughts such as ‘What will other people think of me?’ or ‘How embarrassing will that be?’ Every person is balanced by thoughts about what they ‘should do.’ Those thoughts prevent them from doing extreme things that they ‘want to do.’ Thoughts of what they ‘should do’ create borders in their minds that prevent them from doing what they ‘want to do’ beyond a specific limit.
When I say that Seonhwa has the ability to magnify her personality, I mean that she has the ability to move the borders in her mind to allow her to do more of what she wants to do. She knows how to gauge how far she can move a border and still be within the goal that she’s trying to accomplish. She can do that without ‘becoming a different person.’ She knows how to make herself ‘off-balance’ compared to what is ‘normal’ for her. She also knows when and how to put herself ‘back into a normal balance.’
While she was on Invincible Youth, she magnified the parts of herself that: (1) likes to have fun, (2) doesn’t take things too seriously, and (3) doesn’t care too much about what other people think of her.
When she was acting dumb, most of the time, she was purposely acting dumb to get reactions out of people. When she was answering questions, most of the time, she gave answers that were intended to create a reaction in people.
I say ‘most of the time’ because there were times when she did things that were really dumb, but most of those times were times when she was surprised because she had to do something suddenly or when she was tired and needed sleep.
For Seonhwa to be able to move borders in her mind with precision and to be able to answer questions with answers that consistently create fun reactions, Seonhwa must have a mind that is disciplined, self-controlled, and highly intelligent. It would not be possible for her to do what she does without being intelligent.
Hyomin had trouble trying to figure out whether or not Seonhwa was acting because Seonhwa wasn’t acting. Seonhwa was showing a real side of herself, but she was showing it disproportionally compared to how she is ‘normally.’ When Seonhwa was pretending to be dumb on Invincible Youth, she was showing an ‘off-balance’ version of herself. Seonhwa was called ‘White Paper’ (‘Blank Mind’) because people didn’t realize that what was written on that paper was written in invisible ink. People couldn’t see that she had something in mind because she was so good at hiding it.
Seonhwa uses that skill when she acts. If she looks angry, sad or jealous while she’s acting in a drama, it’s because she has made herself ‘off-balance’ compared to what is ‘normal’ for her and she has balanced herself to be closer to what the character she’s acting as is like. She looks angry, sad or jealous in a drama because she is feeling those emotions, she’s not pretending to feel them.
That clip is from the drama Rosy Lovers which aired from October, 2014 to April, 2015. Seonhwa received a ‘Best New Actress’ award for her acting in that drama series. When I watch that scene, her acting partner is a good actor, but it seems to me like he is pretending to be someone. When I look into his eyes, I don’t see thought inside them. To me, it looks like he’s rehearsing his lines while he pretends to be someone else. When I look at Seonhwa’s face and I look into her eyes, to me, it looks like she’s ‘feeling’ what the character might be feeling and thinking about how the character would act and react in that situation. To me, it looks like she’s partially Seonhwa and partially the character that she’s playing.
Seonhwa uses that skill by changing her mind so that she will think more like the character in the story might think. She tries to see things from the character’s point of view and she tries to make things that are important to the character more important to herself. That is how she can show emotion and body language that is closer to what the character may be like.
The good news is that Seonhwa’s skill can be learned. It’s not something that a person has to be born with. I’ll write more about that in the next article.
Another skill that Seonhwa has is that she knows how to make a conflict engine. Conflict engines create drama. Drama leads to time in front of a camera and airtime is what she needed on Invincible Youth.
Kwon Yuri, a member of Girls’ Generation, was also a cast member on Invincible Youth. She was the most popular girl because of her personality and her beauty.
Kim Taewoo, currently a SoulShop Entertainment solo singer and a member of Groove Over Dose, was recruited to be a host on the show. He agreed to become a host after he found out that Yuri would be on the show and, somehow, ended up doing hard manual labour (sorry, Taewoo Bear).
Han Seonhwa, a member of Secret, wanted more airtime and thought that she would get it if she were in an on-screen romance with Taewoo.
Seonhwa, who was new to variety shows, looked at the other girls and realized that she needed a role to play. She needed a character. Each of the other members, except Hyomin, has a character that they played on the show. Sometimes their character was their own personality, sometimes it was special thing that they did (such as telling cheesy jokes), and sometimes it was their interactions with other cast members. Each of the girls had their ‘thing.’ Each girl was trying to do something to get airtime.
In Episode 8, Seonhwa thought that maybe she could gain airtime if she is in a romantic relationship with Taewoo. Then something happened that she didn’t except. You can watch Episode 8 here. The scene begins 20 minutes into the episode. I’ll post a partial transcript below.
In that scene, some of the cast members (including Yuri, Taewoo and Seonhwa) were learning how to make tofu. They had to use a hand-mill to grind the beans. Taewoo took the hand-mill’s handle and started playing with Seonhwa.
A few minutes later, while Taewoo was grinding beans…
Yuri: Wah! Taewoo, you look so cool.
Taewoo: Really? (he starts voice acting) Madam! I am your servant!
Yuri: It suits you.
When Yuri started grinding beans, Taewoo complimented her and she replied, ‘Madam!’
After that, Taewoo was adding beans to the mill while Yuri was grinding and Yuri said something. Taewoo replied, “Of course. I’ve studied you for two years” and Yuri burst into laughter.
A few minutes later, while Taewoo was sitting at Seonhwa’s grinding mill…
Seonhwa: Taewoo, would you like us to be a couple? (Taewoo bursts into laughter)
Seonhwa: Because if we act like a couple, I think I’ll be on TV a bit more.
Taewoo: You’ll have to ask Yuri first.
Seonhwa: (surprised and a little upset) Why do I have to get Yuri’s permission?
Taewoo: You proposed it.
(Yuri is smiling in the background)
Juhyeon: Be quiet.
Seonhwa: I was denied! (she exclaims with a sad face)
Juhyeon: Seonhwa is desperate enough to propose that.
(Seonhwa, and everyone else, starts laughing. Seonhwa pounds her chest)
A few minutes later, Seonhwa and Taewoo were holding the same handle while they ground beans and Taewoo was singing, ‘Oh, my darling…’
Yuri was watching that from behind them and then walked to where they were and tried to make Seonhwa leave.
Yuri: Hey! Get out of there!
Seonhwa: What are you doing here?
Taewoo: I’m starting to like Seonhwa now.
Taewoo: I never had a woman come after me first in my life.
(Yuri and Seonhwa both start laughing)
Yuri walked away angry and Seonhwa and Taewoo continued grinding beans together while Taewoo sang, ‘Oh, my love…’
Later, while the cast members were cooking the tofu, Taewoo said, “Watching you guys make tofu is making my heart beat.” When he said that, Yuri snuck away to a camera and said into it with a smile, “I know how to make tofu too. All I need now is a great man. Call me.” Taewoo saw her and walked up to her from behind and said, “Hello?” Yuri screamed playfully and ran away.
Later, while the cast members are draining the tofu, Yuri saw Seonhwa and Taewoo spending time together. Then she pulled Seonhwa away and said, “Hey. Come help us out. Don’t fool around.”
In Episode 9 (which can be watched here), in a scene that begins 15 minutes into the episode, cast members are getting ready to collect firewood. They had wooden things to carry wood on that they can wear on their backs like backpacks.
Hyeona grabbed one of the wooden backpacks and says, “Taewoo! Carry me on that.”
A few minutes later…
Yuri: Taewoo, why are you carrying Hyeona? You’ll be tired. You have to work.
Taewoo: I’m stealing her away!
Yuri: You steal just any girl away? (Yuri is upset)
Hyeona: Yuri, you’re jealous! You should have been nicer to him!
Taewoo: Good job!
Hyeona: Treat him well! Don’t regret it later!
(Taewoo and Hyeona continue having fun. Yuri looks unhappy.)
A few minutes later, Seonhwa and Yuri were about to have a wood-sawing competition.
Yuri: Let’s see who can saw faster.
Taewoo: (laughs) You have to bet on something.
Seonhwa: Taewoo. (laughs)
Yuri: No, I won’t do it then. Hey. Hey! Be smart. Seonhwa, you’re doing this because Taewoo is the only man here.
Seonhwa: Then why do you get jealous when Taewoo and I talk?
Yuri: I’m not jealous!
Taewoo: You don’t want me, but you don’t want anyone else to have me either?
Yuri: You’re smart.
(The three of them start laughing.)
And that’s the Key!
Remember, Yuri said ‘All I need now is a great man. Call me’ and ran away playfully after Taewoo stood behind her and said ‘Hello.’
Yuri was playing ‘hard to get.’ She thought that Taewoo liked many girls. She wanted him to prove his love to her.
Taewoo wanted to give love and receive love. Yuri wanted to receive love from Taewoo, but not give love yet. Seonhwa was willing to give love to Taewoo and her willing desire moved his heart. He knew that she wanted to be a couple with him to get more airtime, but her actions still moved his heart. Taewoo also liked that two women were fighting over him.
The second Key is: Yuri is competitive.
Seonhwa realized that Yuri is competitive. She also realized that a love triangle and a bit of competition would get her more airtime than a two-person couple with Taewoo. Seonhwa would share airtime with popular Yuri when they’re competing against each other and would also share airtime with Taewoo when they’re acting lovey-dovey with each other. She realized that people would be emotionally invested in the romantic drama as it unfolds and would be curious about what will happen. Seonhwa realized that she could gain airtime if she maintained the conflict engine.
How could she maintain the conflict engine?
Let’s analyze the situation.
What did each person want?
Taewoo wanted to receive love from Yuri and give love to Yuri. Taewoo started liking Seonhwa because she showed him love while Yuri didn’t show much love.
Yuri wanted Taewoo to prove his love. Yuri doesn’t like losing.
Seonhwa wanted more time on TV.
How could Seonhwa maintain the conflict engine? By not giving people what they want, but also giving them hope that they can achieve what they want.
Taewoo wanted Yuri, but he was willing to go with Seonhwa. If Taewoo rejects Yuri and chooses Seonhwa, the conflict would end. Yuri would realize that she can’t win and would stop trying. If that were to happen, Taewoo and Seonhwa would become a couple.
What else could end the conflict?
If Yuri gives love to Taewoo and Taewoo chooses Yuri, that would end the conflict. Seonhwa didn’t want that, but she could show more love to Taewoo to compete with Yuri for Taewoo’s affection until Taewoo chooses one of them. Seonhwa could gain airtime by being a strong competitor as the love story moves toward its climax, even if Taewoo chooses Yuri in the end. That would end Seonhwa’s airtime in the love story, but it would still give her an opportunity to make a strong impression on the audience.
How could Seonhwa maintain the conflict engine?
By giving enough affection to Taewoo to make Yuri jealous without giving so much affection to Taewoo that he wants to reject Yuri. How could Seonhwa let Yuri keep Taewoo’s attention? By letting Yuri win in their competitions. Seonhwa only needed to make Yuri jealous. Seonhwa would get camera time by participating in the competition.
When Yuri is jealous, she would want to pull Taewoo’s attention away from Seonhwa. After Yuri has his attention again, she would likely continue the push-and-pull relationship. Yuri would continue this push-pull relationship until she makes a choice or until Taewoo makes a choice.
Taewoo would continue the conflict engine because he wants to make Yuri jealous enough to go after him instead of pushing and pulling him, but he would be willing choose Seonhwa as a ‘second choice.’ Taewoo didn’t realize that Yuri was trying to get him to prove his love to her and that his ‘make her jealous’ plan was not helping him.
Seonhwa realized that Yuri and Taewoo had conflicting goals and she realized that she could use the conflict to share airtime with Yuri and Taewoo.
Seonhwa also realized that she needed another way of getting airtime, one that she could use without relying on other people’s conflict.
What was her solution?
Seonhwa created conflict to get reactions out of people. Sometimes she created physical conflict (such as chasing people while she was holding a snake), but most of the time she created conflict in people’s thoughts by doing or saying things that were so unexpected that they made people laugh.
When people asked her questions, she specifically thought of answers that fit the questions, but answers that were also so unexpected that people began worrying about her. She answered consistently, showing the same level of intelligence in her answers. She looked like she was serious when she answered the questions. That caught people off guard. They were expecting serious answers because of the expression on her face when she answered, but when people thought about her answers they realized that her answers were dumb.
She caught them off guard and surprised them by pretending to be serious when she answered. Because of that, it was difficult for people to tell the difference between the real Seonhwa and ‘White Paper Seonhwa.’ Seonhwa created her ‘dumb’ character by magnifying parts of her real personality, so everything that she did and said looked like it was coming from the ‘normal’ Seonhwa.
(Some advice for people who want to be on variety shows:
Telling a joke with a straight face is actually very effective. If your voice or body language makes people expect to hear something funny, they raise their expectations. If your joke isn’t as funny as they expected it to be, your joke could fail.
If you tell a joke when they’re not expecting it, they could find it funny because it’s a surprise and they weren’t expecting it. But if you tell a joke with a straight face and they don’t find it funny, they could either think that you were being serious or they could think that you’re weird. Either way, it would be less embarrassing than telling a joke that falls flat when people expected to hear something funny.
You could tell many types of jokes with a straight face. You don’t have to tell jokes that make you look stupid. You could tell jokes that make people think that you have a different point of view. There are many characters that you can make using this method, but you don’t need to make a character. You can use this method casually.)
Because Seonhwa did that on her first show, which was a long-running reality show, people thought that they were seeing the ‘real her’ because that was the audience’s first opportunity to see her personality. She also used ‘White Paper Seonhwa’ on other variety shows.
I don’t know whether the public still thinks of her as ‘White Paper Seonhwa,’ but she can change her image by showing different sides of herself.
Personally, I’d like to see her act as a secret agent or someone who goes undercover. I think she could play that quite well. She would be especially good in a comedy role. When I watch Seonhwa act, she reminds me of Jun Jihyun (Gianna Jun), and not only because Jun Jihyun looks like a cross between Go Ara and Seonhwa, but because the subtlety in Seonhwa’s acting is similar to Jun Jihyun’s acting.
Of course, her ability is not the only thing that she needs to be able to act well. She also needs to understand the character that she has to play. Sometimes a person has to experience something to be able to understand what another person is thinking and feeling.
From How To Craft a Story:
“Every artist should have an ’emotional inventory,’ an inventory of emotions that are felt for various reasons.
When I say ‘inventory,’ I mean that the artist should experience a wide range of emotions, or watch other people while they are experiencing emotions, empathize with them, and think about other situations in which a person can experience those emotions.
Emotions are part of a ’cause and effect’ relationship. Emotions are caused by things; they do not happen on their own.
“Write what you know” is a quote that is attributed to Mark Twain. Some people interpret that to mean that you should ‘Only write about what you know,’ but that’s not what the quote says. You can write about things that you don’t know, but you should write about things that you do know.
To ‘know’ something doesn’t simply mean to ‘have knowledge of it.’ To ‘know’ something means that you understand it, as though you have lived in it. When you write about things that you’ve lived through or things that you understand, your writing can be genuine and your writing can speak to people.
What things should you ‘know’? Human experiences.
Emotion speaks to people. Information can ring true and speak to a person if it fits a pattern that is in that person’s mind and if it causes the person to want to make an emotional connection to that information. Information can ring true if it means something to the person.
Knowledge can be learned. You can always learn something new, but knowing how to build a bridge is not what speaks to a person. The human experience of the person who builds the bridge is what speaks to a person. Human experiences are common to all of us, even if the details of each experience are different.
Look at what experiences have in common. Look at the circumstances that caused those experiences, how those experiences affect people, the choices that people made, etc. If you understand the reason behind why a person made a choice, you understand something about that person.” — Ideas, Chapter 9
When you combine Seonhwa’s ability to ‘unbalance and rebalance’ herself’ with human experiences, you have a powerful tool.
That combination can help actors act well, but it can also help writers. A writer could use that skill to be able to see things from the viewpoint of each character while the writer is writing. That can help the writer write actions and dialogue as though it is authentically coming from the character. It can help a writer develop characters to make them seem like real people.
That skill and ability can also help a person understand another person’s viewpoint, which can help a person resolve conflict.
It can also be used to help you understand the suffering that another person is going through so that you can have empathy to help that person and pray for that person.
Would you like to find out how a person can ‘unbalance and rebalance’ their own mind?
Then please read the next article.
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